CAP Advocacy

CAP is a unique program for a number of reasons. Unlike most advocacy programs that operate outside the system they seek to impact, CAP is an integral part of the rehabilitation system. This does not mean, however, that CAP should be viewed as a part of the state VR agency. In fact, most CAP’s are administered by public or private programs outside state government. Integral meaning that CAP is an essential part of rehabilitation. It is one of the parts forming the whole of each state VR program. This notion finds its authority not only within the positive relationships that have developed between CAPs and state VR agencies, but it is firmly rooted in the Rehabilitation Act. Under the Act, each state must have a Client Assistance Program. It is no longer left to the discretion of the state whether to administer a CAP. However, each state must assure that CAP has the capacity to impact all levels of the rehabilitation process. In terms of individual advocacy, no state may receive payments from its allotment under section 110 of the Act unless CAP has the authority to pursue legal, administrative, and other remedies to ensure the protection of the rights of individuals with disabilities who are seeking or receiving treatments, services or rehabilitation under the Act within the state. On the program level, CAP is to be consulted on matters of general policy development and implementation. To ensure CAP’s input at this level, the state VR agency must afford CAP reasonable access to policymaking and administrative personnel in state and local VR programs. These requirements enable CAP to interact with the state VR agency on all levels of its rehabilitation program. CAP’s overall focus is broader than most advocacy programs which significantly enhances its ability to bring about systemic change within the rehabilitation system.

CAP is also unique because it serves as a vital link between the state VR agency and the community. CAP is mandated to provide information on available services under the Act to any individual with a disability who resides in the state. This is a function traditionally performed by advocacy programs or groups in the community. On a more significant level, however, CAP functions to keep the state VR agency informed of issues arising within the rehabilitation community. CAP is mandated to identify problems and offer solutions to the state VR agency with regard to delivery of rehabilitations services to individuals with disabilities. Through these two activities, CAP facilitates communication between the state VR agency and the community. This ensures that the rehabilitation system is open and responsive to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

CAP’s uniqueness is best described in terms of its focus. Unlike most advocacy programs, CAP is not limited to providing services to a specific disability group. Its target group includes all individuals seeking or receiving services under the Rehabilitation Act. Thus, individuals served by CAP include not only VR clients, but individuals participating in independent living activities also. CAP is not, however, authorized to meet the overall needs of these individuals. The target group is further defined as individuals seeking or receiving services under the Act. Generally, the appropriateness of a CAP service can be judged by its relationship to a service under the Act. CAP may assist individuals who are applicants or clients of VR who have a concern involving a program, project or facility providing rehabilitation services to them under the Act.

CAP, therefore, may provide assistance if a service provider is funded under the Act and discriminating against a VR client. In this instance, CAP may assist that individual in resolving the issue. On the other hand, if the individual is a client of VR and is being discriminated against by a potential employer, CAP may not assist with the concern beyond providing information.

The focus of CAP’s activities is also unparalleled. Its primary focus is on individual cases. Rather than focus on the impact that the individual’s concerns may have upon the rehabilitation system as a whole, primary emphasis is placed on resolving the concern to the mutual benefit of the individual and VR. Toward this end, CAP staff must seek to mediate the individual’s concern prior to resorting to administrative or other legal remedies. In keeping with the focus, the Program cannot engage in class-action litigation. Systemic issues, therefore, are not a primary concern to CAP.

Essential to CAP is a clear statement of its role in the Rehabilitation System. This is necessary because the commitment to a common philosophy is important to the success of CAP and provides the basis for its culture and the strategies it uses for serving persons with disabilities. Such a statement must be woven from many strands, including core purpose, feasibility, challenge and larger significance. Managing for Excellence, David L. Bradford and Allan Cohen, 1984, pp. 99-132. It is insufficient to simply point to the activities CAP provides to define its role; this is more of a matter of function. It is suggested that CAP’s role is to ensure that the rehabilitation system is open and responsive to the individualized needs of individuals with disabilities who are seeking or receiving services from programs, projects or facilities funded under the Act. When applying the criteria set out above, it is clear that this statement of role reflects the core purpose of the program. The concept centers on the tasks to be accomplished and provides focus for those activities that are not directly related to the individual cases. The statement is feasible. It is consistent with the general purposes of the program as a whole and represents a common philosophy which captures the uniqueness of the program. Furthermore, it captures the values which underlie the program and is an expression of CAP’s strength. The statement is also challenging. It embodies the overarching goals that the program is mandated to achieve and is a way toward a future state of excellence. It also has larger significance. It places the activities in which CAP engages into a broader perspective for VR staff. CAP is viewed not only as addressing concerns at the client/counselor level but throughout the VR program as well.

To understand how CAP carries out its role in the rehabilitation process requires a look at the nature and the scope of the activities in which it is authorized to engage. These include helping clients or applicants understand rehabilitation service programs under the Act; advising clients or applicants of all benefits available to them through rehabilitation programs authorized under the Act and related federal and state assistance programs, and facilities providing rehabilitation services under the Act; otherwise assisting clients and applicants in their relationships with projects, programs and facilities providing rehabilitation services under the Act; helping clients or applicants by assisting them in pursuing, legal, administrative, and other available remedies when necessary to ensure the protection of their rights under the Act; advising state and other agencies of identified problem areas in the delivery of rehabilitation services to individuals with disabilities, suggesting method and means of improving agency performance and providing information to the public concerning CAP. These activities can best be understood when they are viewed as involving outreach, individual advocacy, and systems advocacy. 

CAP outreach includes informal activities. While outreach is not intended for generating enrollment of clients into VR or programs or projects, it serves an important function with regard to informing individuals with disabilities in the community of the benefits available to them under the Act and their rights and responsibilities in connection with these benefits. Outreach is accomplished on an individual basis, or it may be group oriented. For example, CAP may respond to telephone inquiries with regard to the services CAP provides and the services available to individuals with disabilities from the state VR agency or other assistance programs. More extensively, CAP staff may hold workshops or make presentations to groups in the community. Through outreach, CAP enables individuals with disabilities to meaningfully access the rehabilitation system.

Individual advocacy involves assisting persons with disabilities in their relationships with programs, projects and facilities funded under the Act. It includes a wide array of strategies and techniques including information and referral, consultation and active, mediation and negotiation, and administrative and legal representation. The focus of these activities is to balance the legitimate needs of the client and VR counselor. This is primarily achieved through CAP’s mediation of a client’s concern. When viewing CAP as a mediator, it is important to understand that CAP staff is not a neutral third party, as is generally the case in a typical mediation setting. The type of mediation CAP does is defined in the federal regulations as involving good faith negotiations. The use of a third party is not required before resorting to administrative or legal remedies. This process of mediation acknowledges that CAP is an advocate for individual; otherwise, there would be no requirement that it negotiate in good faith. The difference between other forms of advocacy and what CAP does is the need for CAP to seek solutions within the parameters of the Act. CAP best fulfills its function when it gathers facts, defines issues, finds relevant policy/regulation regarding the issue, determines what can be agreed upon, and outlines solutions that exist for resolving a conflict.

CAP also functions in an advisory capacity to state and local VR programs. Through this advisory capacity, CAP ensures that the VR system is open and responsive to the needs of individuals with disabilities. CAP is not only required to identify problems in the delivery of rehabilitation services, but also provides input into state VR agency policy development and implementation. While this may not be the primary focus of CAP’s activities, it is nonetheless, an essential activity. The systemic issues that CAP identifies are addressed differently than in the traditional sense. Rather than effect change through methods such as class-action litigation, CAP’s approach to systems issues is intended to be interactive. While CAP has the responsibility to work with VR in order to validate the existence of systemic issues and to formulate solutions.

CAP enables the community to advise the State VR agencies of identified problem areas in the delivery of rehabilitation service. This input is important to policy development and implementation. A point of emphasis is that CAP facilitates two-way communication between the State VR agencies and the community.

Understanding CAP’s role and function in the rehabilitation process is a crucial step in helping the program be perceived by VR staff as professional, fair and ethical. It is clear that CAP supports the concept of VR and the Act, and is there to work with VR staff to improve the system. Understanding CAP’s role and function is also helpful in realizing the benefits that come from its involvement in the rehabilitation system.

CAP facilitates communication and trust between the client/applicant and the VR counselor. Other times, however, the problem does not center on the individuals’ relationship with the counselor, but involves a decision that has been made of a different level. CAP is often helpful in identifying the client’s real concern and preventing a breakdown in communication with the VR counselor. In this instance, the focus is shifted away from the VR counselor to the issue of administrative practice or policy.

CAP also provides an important perspective to those within the state VR agency who are responsible for developing and implementing agency policy and practice. Since CAP works closely with clients and applicants of VR, it is able to see the impact that a state policy will have upon individuals with disabilities in the community.

Finally, CAP provides a proven method of alternative dispute resolution. This is accomplished through its efforts to mediate an individual’s concerns with the state VR agency. Rather than immediately pursue administrative or other legal remedies, CAP advocates seek to resolves concerns in a way that is acceptable to both the client and the VR agency. For example, as an initial attempt to resolve a client’s concerns, a CAP advocate may request a meeting be held with the VR counselor, his or her supervisor, the client and the CAP advocate. This face to face good faith interaction usually helps in identifying the issues and gathering accurate and sometimes missing information. The client and the VR staff are given an ample opportunity to express their needs and concerns. This non-administrative form of resolution can result in a nice compromise for both parties. It usually has the added benefit of improving lines of communication between the client and the VR staff. If this does not result in an acceptable resolution, the CAP advocate will recommend that the individual participate in an Informal Administrative Review with a VR administrator. This approach does not interfere with the more formal review, an Impartial Hearing, and more importantly, often results in a resolution of the concern. Even when this method does not resolve the concern, it helps the parties identify the real issues that need to be addressed at the hearing and provides for the orderly processing of the case for review. Finally, the client may request a more formal administrative remedy and proceed to an Impartial Hearing.